<
>

Will USC-Oregon set stage for two Pac-10 BCS bowl berths?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It's clear that No. 5 USC's visit to No. 10 Oregon is a big game. Control of the Pac-10 and a potential BCS bowl berth are high stakes.

Perhaps there even will be national title implications.

Now, will it be a good game? Will it be the sort of contest where two teams play so impressively that even the loser becomes a top candidate for an at-large BCS bowl berth -- if, of course, it takes care of business the rest of the season?

That's what the Pac-10 needs the game to be. It needs a second BCS bowl berth because it hasn't gotten that revenue and prestige boost since 2002.

The conference didn't have many showcase moments last year. USC was celebrated -- probably too much -- for pounding Ohio State. And it was denigrated -- certainly too much -- for losing at Oregon State. The Civil War between ranked Oregon and Oregon State teams got a tip of the cap from the college football nation. But that was about it.

The conference took some hits in terms of national perception in 2008 until a 5-0 bowl mark inspired an after-the-fact reconsideration.

Now, with four Pac-10 teams ranked in the BCS standings, there's little question about the Pac-10's overall quality.

So what might the Halloween showdown in Autzen Stadium mean?

If Oregon wins:

  • The Ducks would be the only undefeated team in Pac-10 play. By handing the Trojans a second conference loss, the Ducks would essentially give themselves a three-game lead over USC.

  • The only team with one loss in conference play, Arizona, plays host to Oregon on Nov. 21.

  • The "Curious Case of Boise State" will only get more curious. If the Broncos finish undefeated, and the Ducks finish 11-1, their lone defeat coming in the opener in Boise, there will be plenty of debate over who deserves top billing between the two. Boise State's schedule will have been exponentially easier than Oregon's, but head-to-head is head-to-head (outside of the Big 12, at least).

If USC wins:

  • The Trojans would not be home free in the Pac-10. If they lost another game, and Oregon wins out, the Ducks still would be the champs.

  • USC also hasn't played Arizona yet. The Wildcats visit the Coliseum on Dec. 5, the final weekend of the season -- same date as the SEC and Big 12 championship games.

  • If USC finished 11-1 against what might be the nation's toughest schedule, it would have a good chance of earning its way into the BCS title game.

Further, an Oregon victory could set up this earth-shattering possibility: The Pac-10 might not not hand at least a share of its crown to the Trojans for the first time since 2001. An unprecedented seven-year run atop the conference could end.

Heck, USC could end up in the Holiday Bowl. Or worse!

Some folks not familiar with the Pac-10 terrain might find the notion of USC losing hard to wrap their minds around. The Trojans, after all, always win big games, particularly in Pac-10 play -- it's the "little" ones that give the Trojans trouble.

Not completely true. These two teams met in Eugene in 2007, when Oregon was ranked No. 5 and USC was ninth, and the Ducks won 24-17 and appeared headed to the national title game until quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee.

And there's this: USC has lost three in a row in the state of Oregon.

It could be rainy and cold, too. Combine that with the deafening din of Autzen Stadium, which will be busting at the seams -- and surely well-lubricated -- for a 5 p.m. kickoff (PDT), and this might be the most challenging environment Trojans freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has faced. And he's faced some tough ones at Ohio State and Notre Dame.

The game will be plenty hyped and deservedly so.

What the Pac-10 needs is for the result to resonate throughout the rest of the season in a positive way for the loser as well as the winner.